It was like sleeping in the cleanest of cotton sheets, soft and yet somehow the faintest scratchiness of weave and starch sang into your skin like dawn and songbirds. You did not need to wake yet, but waking was there as something that there would be in your future and seemed likely to be no more unpleasant than sleep. And both sleep and that future waking were bliss at the brink of the unendurable.
It was like when he brought you to the edge with ice-cubes and candle-wax so that you could no longer tell which was which except that you wanted both and both were pleasure and both were pain and both were symbols of an enactment of what you could never let yourself call love - they were the code you spoke volumes to each other in.
You knew that was a strange comparison and yet it was the right one.
This had that same sense of more enfolded in what seemed small pleasure, that sense that as it opened out, it would stretch you and all you were to a point way beyond what you thought yourself capable of bearing.
Somehow, though sleepy, you knew that she was there, next to you in some way that was not anything like skin on skin, yet was closeness beyond lovers and sisters and mother and child. Sometimes you drifted into her dreams, dreams of blood and spite, dreams of yearning and completion - and all you took away from her dreams was the same bittersweetness that already lived in the back of your throat, the back of your mind.
Regret was there, but also acceptance.
Somehow you knew that, as you slept, others watched and cared for you.
There was a sense of triumph in the air about you that hummed in your veins, but was not part of you. Lost but now found, it hummed, bound to perdition but now free in glory. The strangest thing about this, you thought as you stretched into almost waking, was that this ought to be strange and yet was not.
And then you half awoke with a start of memory - there had been a knife in your throat and a wound in your side and the exhaustion of days hiding in the sewer and the stich from running and the fear and the pain and the loss. It was all salved away, so that it did not even throb like a finger you burned days ago.
This could not be right, you thought, as you came fully awake.
I know the deal, you thought, because I signed it in blood; and I don't get to have my every tear wiped away. I get burning pain, and mocking laughter, and the payment of every debt.
Except y-you don't, a voice said, stroking what was no longer exactly your forehead. It doesn't work like that.
How come you stammer, you said to her. Doesn't that sort of thing get ironed out here? Into perfection?
Ah, she said, we are perfectly who we are. It turns out that the stammer is part of that. Like that odd throaty lisp of hers.
And you opened what were no longer your eyes and saw four blonde women, two of them as sleepy as you, and exactly the same as each other. Oh, and those two - entirely familiar except for there being two of them, and not paying much attention to anything except wondering at each other and stroking each other's hair in a way that you would not have thought appropriate if you were where you seemed to be. But clearly, what did you know about anything any more?
Please god, you said, I haven't gone blonde too. It wouldn't suit me, even in heaven?
The older of the two women who were standing? floating? above you said, you're right. It wouldn't. And yes, it is, more or less.
So, if it is, why am I here? How am I here?
Ah, the two women above you said, it does not work like you think it works. Which is lucky for you and lucky for them, and quite lucky for us, in our turn.
Do I know you, you said. I know them, except there did not used to be two of them.
They were both part of your story, the younger, stammering one said. We were part of the story you were part of, which is not the same thing.
She bit me once, the older one said.
They both seemed to be waiting for something.
So, because you obviously couldn't be allowed to be impatient in heaven, you made something that was not in fact a coughing noise and said, Darla, both of you, behave.
They shook themselves fully awake in a flurry of blondeness and said Lilah? Lilah Morgan? what are you doing here? and who are they?
It was cute that they said everything in chorus, but also irritating, Interesting that you were allowed to be irritated in heaven.
I don't know, you said, except she says you bit her once.
Whoops, they said, I remember her, she's the slayer's mother.
Oh, I get it, you said there are two of you because - one of you is human Darla, or whatever your name really was. And the other is vampire Darla, only somehow if a vampire can get to heaven, that really does change all the rules.
There are no rules, said the young one with just a hint of the stammer again. There is only mercy - most of it the mercy you learn to show to yourself.
What can you ever have done? you said to them that could compare with the things I did? Or the things she - they - did?
We both died for love, you and I, she said. We were in a place where we might not have been because we loved. You were in love, Lilah, she said, and you died love's martyr. As did I.
And I was a mother, said the older woman, and so were you, Darla, and I made deals with life, not always good ones, and so did you, Darla.
We have much to talk about, the two standing women said in chorus.
It is like being ganged up on by Yoda and his clones, you thought, cheerfully exploring this irritation thing.
Who were you, you said.
I was Tara and I died in Sunnydale, she said, and none of this would mean anything to you because I never met any of the people you know. When the slayer died, my lover brought Angel the news...
And this one just died on me, hideous sentimental thing that it is...
Oh, and the thing about Elephant is that it is a fairly pretentious art movie about Columbine which manages to say most of the things that an artless telemovie would have said. The killers were victimized; a kid coping with parental alcoholism is terribly competent and saves lives; a girl who hates her body, and three bulimic bitcas, and a likable photographer, and a jock and his lady might as well all be wearing red shirts.
The long tracking shots through the schools never gave me much sense of its geography - we needed the map the killers pore over much earlier. The shifts up and down the timeline do work, though, and after a while you acquire a sense of dread which carries you through the climax irrespective.
I also got very irritated by the presence on the soundtrack of various bits of Burroughs, odd phrases of Mahler and other bits of collage that just did not belong. Whereas the badly played Beethoven was genuinely chilling and let us into the killer pianist's head far better than letting us see him watch films of Hitler or playing with guns.
Someone ought to have made a good film about Columbine, someone who wasn't van Sant trying to get his avant-garde cred back.